By Will Grandbois
Sopris Sun Staff Writer
There’s a story behind the some of the seeds and starts you’ll see at Dandelion Day, and Casey Piscura is happy to tell it.
“When you buy a start from us, it’s been under the Colorado sun the whole time,” he told The Sopris Sun. “I’m giving you a packet of seeds for four bucks that are outgrowing hybrids in our greenhouse that are a dollar a seed.”
He’ll tell you the same thing while he’s hawking a dizzying array of tomatoes at the Basalt Farmer’s Market or shelling peas right into a packet at Wild Mountain Seeds headquarters.
He may not, unless you’re a nosy journalist, tell you that he grew up with a plot of his own in a gardening family and studied crop and soil science at Virginia Tech, where he got a good look at “the big commercial side of agriculture.” After that, he took a job building golf courses, which brought him to Gypsum but didn’t really satisfy him.
“I wanted to work outside, but it was so far off what I aligned myself with,” he said.
Instead, he ended up raft guiding for a several years, and was about two weeks away from flying to New Zealand to take a rafting job there when he heard the Sewell Family was looking for someone to work a bit of fallow land on their ranch south of Carbondale. He ignored the naysayers, turned down the rafting job and pitched his plan to the Sewells.
“What’s more of an adventuring than trying to grow your own food?” he noted.
Now, Wild Mountain Seeds is in its fourth season and turning a profit — though he figures with the amount of time he and Kirsten Keenan put in it comes to about 50 cents an hour. Getting rich isn’t the point, but proving you can make it certainly is.
“Profitability to me is a sign of your value to the community,” he said. “We can still do what a nonprofit does, we’re just not asking for donations.”
There’s certainly no shortage of young folks trying to tackle local food sustainability, many of which will be featured in an upcoming documentary backed by Inaugural Redford Center Awards Grants. Learn more and view the trailer at howwegrowmovie.com.
As for Wild Mountain Seeds, most of its income comes from selling tomatoes to local restaurants or through their CSA, but the transplants and seeds are still an important passion. They’re bred specifically for resistance to drought, cold and harsh sunlight, which is almost immediately apparent from their thick, fuzzy stalks. Unlike most commercial hybrids, however, they come from plenty of diversity.
“We’ve got all the genetics we can find,” Piscura explained. “It’s a resilient system that’s less likely to fail. We might get a blight that comes through, but it only affects a few different types.”
All told, he figures they’re caring for about 50,000 plants — a number that is only growing with the recent addition of another greenhouse. Right now’s the perfect time for gardeners to nab starts for tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage, cucumber and the like, as well as seeds for beans, squash, greens and more. You can find some of their selection or contact Piscura and Keenan at wildmountainseeds.com.